Slender Man Stabbing!? What the Heck is Going On?
Two weeks ago two preteen girls stabbed their friend 19 times in a forest in Wisconsin. Why did they do it? They wanted to be worthy of the Slender Man—who they believed lives in a mansion in the northern part of the state. Now that the victim is out of the hospital and back home with her family, we thought it was time to visit this topic and talk a bit about what went on here, beyond the physical facts of the case. If you aren't familiar with the crime, there's a decent story here. If you aren't familiar with the Slender Man, here's an article on him that we did a couple of years ago on Mindhut.
It seems like a good place to start would be to say that the Slender Man doesn't exist. The problem is that that's not entirely true (and that’s likely a big part of the problem). Obviously, we can say with enormous confidence that the Slender Man isn't a real creature that you could ever see or encounter, but he is a real myth—he exists in the way Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Zeus, or vampires exist. In each of those examples you can imagine someone acting sincerely because they believe—whether it's an expectant child sneaking downstairs on Christmas Eve, or an ancient Greek at the foot of Mount Olympus—and it’s likely that these tragic events are a variation on that same kind of mythological thinking.
The very reason that the Slender Man mythology has been so quickly absorbed into popular culture is that he is a monster for the digital age. He is (literally) the faceless man who lurks on the internet and threatens our children. Watching mainstream media confront that mythology and try to make meaning of it (without falling into it) has been sort of distressing. There is a problem at work here that has nothing to do with the internet, and everything to do with mental/emotional wellbeing. Individuals can (and do) fall into extremely involved fantasy lives for any number of reasons. If those individuals are in a frame of mind where the difference between imagination and reality is unclear, then problems are likely to result.
There's no doubt that every now and again somewhere, someone commits some kind of violent act as a reaction to imaginary forces from dark fiction. But if you were to add up every crime ever motivated by fiction, it wouldn't even equal one thousandth of one percent of the crimes motivated by money, sex, racism, religion, or intoxication. The difference is that fiction-motivated crimes are WAY more interesting to talk about. Certainly, there are questions that a crime like this is bound to elicit.
Will there be more Slender Man violence?
Maybe, but if there is, it’s likely to be the result of copycats or media sensationalization—which we’ve already seen a couple times this week—rather than any sort of outbreak or epidemic.
Does more need to be done to police children’s’ internet habits?
Sure, but probably not in the realm of Slender Man stories and “creepypasta.” There are tons of legitimately dangerous things out there that preteen kids should be protected from. Spooky legends are pretty low on that list.
Does more need to be done to understand the effect of internet memes?
Absolutely, if we are talking about the individual effect they have on your loved ones. If parents have kids that are so engrossed in a meme that they are developing a murder plot around it, it’s pretty likely that meme came up once or twice in conversation. Parents and older siblings need to talk to kids about what the kids are passionate about (and kids need to share that kind of stuff with their families). As cases like this remind us, close friends (of any age) can create feedback loops with one another that can spin passions into obsessions, and obsessions into tragedies.
If you are interested in more on the subject of the Slender Man and this stabbing, here’s a video that goes into greater detail. It’s pretty academic, but you may find it worth your time.
So, how about your own experiences—have you ever known someone who took a fantasy too far? Tell us about it below.